It was epic! Rumbling thunder boomers, lightning flashes in the clouds, rolling sheets of rain, and a thousand people gathered under the tall pines for the annual gathering of the trail running tribes for Rocky Raccoon. Race staff, park staff, volunteers, runners, crews, families, photographers, sponsors all made for a large collection of energy on the ground to match the energy in the sky.
For the first time in 15 years, the rain poured upon the runners of Rocky Raccoon. 376 century runners burst from under the tents where they had huddled to stay dry at exactly 6am. The lead pack included Ian Sharman, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, and Oswaldo Lopez. Liza Howard was part of the group just back of them. An hour later we repeated the same start under the same conditions for the 50 mile race with 298 more runners. All told, we now had 674 runners on the course. The 100 course is five 20mi loops and the 50 mile course is three 16.7 mile loops. The two courses are the same for both groups except for a shortcut on the back side of the park.
Ian and Oswaldo finished the first 20mi loop side by side in 2:27, with Hal just 30 seconds back, and Karl another 30 seconds. Still pretty tight for 20 miles. Loop two had Ian and Hal cross the 40 mile point side by side with another 2:27 loop, with Karl just 95 seconds back, and Oswaldo 9 minutes behind Karl. Loop three saw Hal take the lead with a solid 2:37, with Karl holding steady just 10 minutes back, and Ian falling off pace and soon done for the day. Oswaldo lost 20 minutes, but was still running very well. With the course deteriorating into mud and bog from the mixture of heavy rain and 700 runners on a multi-loop course, it surprised me how well all these guys were doing. It was certainly taking its tole on the field with only 58% of the field finishing. Hal increased his lead on loop four with another solid 2:49, while the others slipped over the 3:00 mark. Understand that 3:00 is pretty quick for a 20 mile loop in these conditions, but Hal seemed to have it dialed in today. The final loop saw Hal's 1st 3:00 time, while Karl ran a 3:30, and Oswaldo still running well to close with a 3:10. And thats how it ended with Hal Koerner winning the 20th annual Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race on an epic day with a phenomenal 13:24:52 in the worst possible conditions. Karl ran a smart race as well for 2nd in 14:17:42. Both of them were faster than last year's near perfect conditions. Oswaldo was 3rd with a very solid 14:30:58.
Liza Howard ran just off the lead pack on the first loop with a very quick 2:35, with Sabrina Moran, Jill Perry, and Heather Mastrianni 15 minutes back in a pack. All the leading women backed off for the 2nd loop, with Liza and Heather both taking the best times with a 3:09. Liza led by 10 minutes over Sabrina and Heather, with Jill another 15 minutes back. Loop three saw everyone holding steady with each running a 3:30, but for Jill who withdrew. Everything flipped upside down on loop four with both Liza and Heather dropping from the race, leaving Sabrina up front with nobody close. Sabrina Moran closed out the race with a 17:06:10 to win the women's 100mi race, with Vikki Baylis (20:01:51) and Liza Canowitz (20:09:18) taking 2nd and 3rd.
219 runners finished the 100 miler for the worst ever finishing percentage in 20 years. The runners who took more time suffered the worst because of the wet conditions. The water and sand mixed to create a liquid sandpaper that slowly worked on the soft skin of everybody's soaking wet feet. More people dropped because of their blisters that mixed with more sand, mud, and water and the pain associated with sliding on the slippery mud. Those that persevered all night long and into the second day paid a heavy price, not to say that even the earlier runners didn't have the same issues... but for a much shorter period of time. It was about as emotional a finish as I have ever seen in 20 years... over and over again... all night long.
The 50 miler watched Gerardo Moreno lead from start to finish to win in 6:15:12, followed by David Brown in 6:31:51, and Olli Haavikko in 7:34:51. The women's 50 mile race was a bit more interesting. Amanda Ewing led from the start, taking loop one in 2:21, with Anabel Pearson at 2:23, and Lorena Devlyn at 2:25. But, Lorena Devlyn got some extra distance on loop two when she missed a turn and fell out of contention (it appeared) by losing 30 minutes. Amanda was still leading after loop two with a 3:00 split with Anabel closing within a minute, but Amanda did not finish the race. Anabel took the lead for the final loop, but this changed again quickly as the fading Anabel was passed by the hard charging Lorena and almost passed again by the even paced Rachael Blair. Rachel had simply run three solid and almost even splits of 2:53, 3:03, and 2:56 to take 3rd and within 30 yards of taking 2nd with the fastest closing split of 2:53. The best run of the day had to be Lorena's return to contention from her early mishap. From 30 minutes back, her anger pushed her through the field as she surged back and surprised everyone including herself with the win. And so it ended with Lorena Devlyn 1st in 8:41:38, Anabel Pearson 2nd in 8:53:38, and Rachael Blair 3rd in 8:53:43.
259 runners finished the 50 miler out of the 298 starters.
As difficult and awkward as this race was under these rough conditions, it was even worse for the volunteers. We had 150 people working aid stations, marking course, hauling supplies, working the radios, providing medical support, managing timing, packets, tents, and so on and so on. Some of the tent covers turned into swimming pools and we had to cut the tarps to release the water. Those hauling supplies dealt with muddy roads and poor visibility. Medical & radio people teamed up with a boat to ferry people and supplies across Raven Lake. But all the runners were tracked, the course was well marked, and the tear down was handled with care... til the ATV went through the back window on my truck. All in all, the volunteers rocked. They stayed and performed as well as did Hal & Karl.